Force coach Dave Wessels says resting Dane Haylett-Petty for their two-week New Zealand tour was always part of his 2017 plan.
Haylett-Petty, arguably the side’s most influential player, will sit out their matches in Christchurch and Auckland, but will be available for their round seven home clash with the Kings and the rest of the season.
The 27-year-old played 14 of the Wallabies’ 15 Tests in 2016, rested for their clash with France, and featured in all 15 of the Force’s matches last year as well.
His omission is an intriguing move given Friday’s clash with the Crusaders is their first against New Zealand opposition this season but Wessels said it was a strategy laid out a long time ago.
“It was part of his plan from the start,” he said.
“I sat down with Dane probably a couple of days pre-Christmas and mapped out his season back then.
“It’s certainly not a reflection that we don't think these games are important, we just want to get the best out of Dane.”
Haylett-Petty has a troublesome groin and though it’s not restrictive, Wessels said it was a concern they didn’t want to become a forced sideline stint.
“Dane’s played a lot of rugby more rugby than he was used to and he has for some years had a bit of a flareup of his groin.” - Wessels.
“It’s not an injury as such, it’s just load managing more than anything and this tour presented the chance to do that.
Wessels pointed to the Brumbies’ recent resting of Scott Fardy as well as the regular move of New Zealand teams to rest All Blacks as proof rotation was becoming more of the norm.
“It’s just a smart thing to do - to expect a guy to play every minute of every game is just unrealistic," he said.
“The average number of players used in Super Rugby teams is 38 - that’s two-and-a-half teams.
“It’s better to try and manage that and be proactive than have to be reactive when someone gets injured.”
Luke Morahan and Robbie Coleman loom as Haylett-Petty’s potential replacements, with Morahan having played fullback for the Wallabies in Paris last year.
Former captain Matt Hodgson is set for his first game of 2017, injecting some more experience into the side for the Crusaders.
Skipper Ben McCalman was on the verge of being included for the trip to Christchurch but is yet to be given the final all clear by medical staff on a dislocated thumb, while backrower Brynard Stander will miss three weeks with a shoulder injury.
This week’s match is a chance for the Force to prove themselves against a New Zealand team, amid the ongoing uncertainty around Australia’s Super Rugby future.
The ARU is believed to have met with broadcasters last week to finalise the Australian position, but the timeline on a final decision is no clearer, with confirmation still needed from all four venture partners and key broadcasters.
Wessels remained confident about the Force's future beyond 2018 on Monday but said the longer the competition limbo continued, the more frustrating things became.
“My feeling is it needs to be resolved,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the lack of clarity for people with families, with wives and children isn't fair and it seems to be that the longer it drags out the more difficult it makes it.
“I'm confident about the future of the Force and the pressure from this SANZAAR talk has galvanised the team and the wider rugby community of WA.
“I certainly think that SANZAAR should be working very hard to find a resolution, not least for the benefit of the fans, as soon as possible.”
Force squad to travel to New Zealand